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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

Postgraduate Diary: Keeping Quiet

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sitting in lecture theatres, I sometimes get a distorted sense of perspective, not unlike the experience of reading some of Woolf's peculiarly angled descriptions of characters seen from cliffs and offshore boats in The Voyage Out. In lectures, I usually try to worm my way to the back; as the lecture goes on, and as the rows of heads descend away in front of me, their silhouettes correspondingly seem to enlarge with each drop down and away, swelling, I imagine, with the increasingly brilliant minds they must (surely) contain, until the front row almost obscures the lecturer. In this way, when the moment comes and the papers are tapped into order on the lectern, and the chairperson invites questions, I find myself terrified of projecting my weak voice from the back, lobbing my intellectual ball over those assembled brains towards the speaker.

Today was a case in point. I attended a paper given by John Cottingham, Professor of Philosophy at Reading, editor of Ratio and a world authority on Descartes. He was arguing that science could be incorporated into a religious outlook if, in a variation of Pascal's wager, man were to adopt a regulative principle to proceed as if God exists. I desperately wanted to point out that the counter movement was increasingly true, and that science can incorporate religion into its momentum. I wanted to suggest that, a century after the General Theory, the unified theory still has not been solved, and increasingly cosmologers and physicists are wondering whether the factor that blocks their equations from resolving might not be a factor of uncertainty, one which might be labelled "God." Modern science is searching for the "God particle," the fundamental building block which constitutes matter, the existence of which implies a single, fundamental law inscribed in the very fabric of the universe. Yet - as the title of Leon Lederman's The God Particle: If The Universe is the Answer What is the Question? implies - if this is an essential physical property of the universe, out there to be found, paradoxically its discovery may recover the incomprehensible miracle of creation, since beyond this limit of scrutiny nothing more about the way the universe was created can be discovered; from manifesting himself in the large and miraculous, God may be seen to operate, perhaps more radically than conceived before, at the subatomic level.

Instead of asking for his take on this alternative perspective, I sat on my hands and closed my mouth. The next day, as I was walking through town, John Cottingham passed me, trundling his suitcase towards the station. The moment passed too, and I said nothing. One day, hopefully, I will have the guts to believe my own ideas are worth shouting about. Until then, I will have to buy his book - The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value - and scribble my contentions silently in the margins.

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Posted by Alistair at 9:49 am


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